Out on a street in an Indian village, half a dozen children gather around their teacher who points a stick at the diagrams on a wall, one of many murals in the neighborhood being used to help poor students keep up with their education during the coronavirus pandemic. With schools shut since March in a virus lockdown, teachers in Nilamnagar, western India, became concerned that some youngsters would fall behind because their families cannot afford an internet subscription for online classes.
So they came up with a workaround - children like playing on the streets, so they would take their lessons outside. "Since most of the families lack resources to educate their kids digitally, we had to come up with an innovative method to keep children invested in education," Ram Gaikwad, a teacher at Asha Marathi Vidyalaya school, told AFP ahead of Teachers' Day in India on Saturday. The outdoor classrooms for a total of 1,700 students aged between six and 16 have been a hit.
Every day, small groups gather at the painted walls in alternate lanes in the village of more than 30,000 people, sitting or standing as they take notes. Their teachers walk through the village each weekday morning, stopping to explain the lesson or answer any questions. The murals cover a vast range of subjects - from writing to trigonometry - in English and the local Marathi language. On one sun-faded wall, illustrations of objects starting with the letter "s" - including a scooter, spade and swing - are painted in black below the words "look, listen and say".
"When my mother sends me to buy milk, I walk through the village and look at the lessons on the walls," 13-year-old Yashwant Anjalakar told AFP. The son of two factory workers-who hopes to work for the elite Indian Administrative Service one day-said the walls are the only option for students like him who lack access to the internet. "I miss my school and my friends a lot. Sitting at home is boring and these walls are a great way of revising and studying… I want to keep studying even during this pandemic." So far, 250 walls in the village have been painted by a local artist, and the school hopes to commission another 200.
Parents have chipped in to help with the project's cost, which has reached 150,000 rupees ($2,050) so far, said the school's principal Tasleem Pathan. "The entire village is invested in keeping the children educated during the pandemic," Pathan told AFP. India has the world's third highest tally of virus infections, with more than 3.7 million confirmed cases, behind the United States and Brazil. Despite a strict lockdown, the pandemic has shown no signs of slowing down as it moves from cities into the country's rural interior.-AFP